Pets - nature's own mood enhancer?

BY NICK BARNETT
Last updated 12:45 21/10/2010

Psychologist Fran Vertue has just written about how pets can make people feel secure and loved. It's well worth reading. And it made me think again about how having a pet can shift your thoughts and emotions.

Woman with dog
  Having a pet around can make a person feel more secure and loved.
I've nearly always had a cat in my house, for the past 20 years. But I didn't have a dog around until two years ago. And, maybe coincidentally, I think I'm a more cheerful person than I was two years ago.

True, I've asked my partner and he doesn't notice a difference: he points out that I still get stressed and grumpy when rushing  for a bus or plane, and I can still be heard addressing the TV with bad-tempered comments such as "wankers". (In my defence I find this hard to avoid, most nights, and in this interactive age I view it as feedback.)

But for me, from the inside, I feel less bothered, more smiley, more likely to laugh at things that don't matter. I think this would have happened anyway, as I've managed in those two years to rebuild my working day into one that's manageable and productive rather than a constant hassle, through the simple solution of working from home. Plus I'm two years older, past a certain milestone birthday, and with age comes calm wisdom, right?

Still, though, I'm sure that the impact of my dogs on me is to improve my humour and shorten any negative moments that happen. Each dog makes me laugh at least three times a day. Multiplied by two dogs, that's six laughs a day. They're also drop-dead cute, so that's at least six "awww" moments per day, easily outweighing the "ugh" and "ewww" moments. The dogs also need exercise, so that means a good deal more fresh air, movement and collegial conversation (with other dog walkers) than I would have had otherwise.

Eazy smiles
  Who could stay grouchy with a smiler like Eazy around?
So I can see how the dogs improve my wellbeing. But "secure and loved"? Hmmm, not sure that it applies to me. But evidently it does for a lot of people, especially those on their own or dealing with a big setback in their lives. Has the presence of a pet ever helped you through such a time? Or lifted your mood like a natural anti-depressant or tranquilliser?

I wonder about one more thing. You'd think that a person who feels more secure and loved, or whose mood is generally lifted and made more positive, will become a better or "nicer" person. They'd be less stressed than otherwise, more forgiving or cheerful. So do pets generally lift the quality and likeability of humanity? Or do they just make a person feel better about themselves, not about other people or the rest of the world, leaving them grumps who reserve their best behaviour for Marley or Miss Happy Paws?

Research that one, psychologists.

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26 comments
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Greg   #1   12:50 pm Oct 21 2010

My partner's cat certainly enhances my mood, if you can call getting angrier mood enhancing.

Megan   #2   01:22 pm Oct 21 2010

The last two nights after the last big earthquake one of my cats has been sleeping on my bed all night. I noticed that I felt a lot less anxious, went to sleep quicker and slept better with Max on the bed.

Jo   #3   01:29 pm Oct 21 2010

I definately believe pets are mood enhancers, the best part of the day is getting home from work and being greeted with my cat running down the hallway to see me. She is very smoochy and it makes me happier instantly (for her it could be about getting fed once I'm home but I like to think its not just that!).

IsisAhmet   #4   01:35 pm Oct 21 2010

When I come home from wherever i've been, my dogs (and sometimes even the cats too) are always so excited to see me. Its great for lifting my mood if i've had a bad day, lets me know that i am loved!

Nicola   #5   01:36 pm Oct 21 2010

My dog certainly has helped me through many tough times, divorce and redundnacy being the biggies. He made it worthwhile to get up in the morning and seeing the delight on his face and in his bendy body lifted any grotty mood I had when I get home. I suffer with depression and don't always like myself very much but my dog loves me regardless and is the light of my life.

Helen   #6   01:44 pm Oct 21 2010

I went through a very rough marriage break up 2 years ago and one of my saving graces to my sanity were my two little dogs. No matter what was happening in my life they were always happy, always there to cheer me up, always there to talk to (they never answer back), always there to take walking in the fresh air & always there for a cuddle at night. I was never alone even in the darkness of what was happening around me - they were my light and gave me hope, joy, laughter,friendship & above all else unlimited love. P.S. Walking them everyday also helped me to loose 40Kgs - well done to Basil & Max

Mon   #7   01:50 pm Oct 21 2010

My Dog definitely makes me feel safe & loved. The 5 years i've had her we have been through alot together & shes always there at the end! unconditional love (her to me and me to her) .... Even when I get home and she has flipped every single cushion off the couch, dragged her bed across the room & blankets down the hall & knocked all my clean washing onto the floor & made it her new bed (this was just Mondays events) she still puts a huge smile on face! .... im a sucker for cute animals!

Huddy's mum   #8   01:53 pm Oct 21 2010

Definatley a mood lifter in our house!

Our JRT snuggles when it's required, knows how to make us both smile during constuctive arguments, as well as just generally being a pleasure to be around, and provide us with plenty of laughs.

He's always so happy to see us whenever we have been out anywhere. How could it not be good for you to see someone that stoked to see you every time you come home? Beats the times where he almost runs us down he's so happy to see us. He's learning to sit before being awknowledged. Honest.

JeM   #9   02:02 pm Oct 21 2010

My own dogs tend to drive me nuts on occassion (like when I come home and find that despite they are smaller than cats, they have somehow managed to pull the tablecloth down and destroy everything that was on the table... they must give each other piggy backs to manage that one!) but if I have had a REALLY horrible day, I will swing home past a pet store and go play with the cute little animals there - it will cheer me up without fail.

When I am upset or sad, my dogs will both snuggle me (one will try and lick the tears!) so they do help.

Dorothy   #10   02:05 pm Oct 21 2010

When I get home at the end of a busy day at work(and especially if its been a "crappy" one), one look at our 3 cats waiting and I forget about the day that I've had, especially when you pick them up to say hello and they snuggle into your neck. And I swear to god that the other day when we got home and I was unlocking the door, Carter our tabby and the talker in the family, said "mama" (but my sister reckons I'm just nuts)!


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